Kasia Niewiadoma says the pressure she put on herself at the World Championships was ‘overwhelming,’ though overcoming expectation for target races is a piece of the performance puzzle she’s yet to solve.
After a season which saw her take a triumphant win at Amstel Gold Race in April, it’s disappointment which crops up first when asked about the summer of 2019.
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“I can split the season into two parts: before Worlds, and after Worlds. Before, I was very happy and content,” Niewiadoma says at the Canyon-SRAM training camp near Malaga, Spain.
“In Yorkshire, I feel I gave up before the battle started. Sometimes you really want something and you believe in it, and you do your best to achieve it. Then the day comes and you realise you have to deliver it… and it’s so overwhelming.
“I felt my body was ready for it and maybe I just mentally cracked. Before, I had so much energy, I felt vibrant, then at the start I didn’t feel I wanted to race – I just wanted to go back home because I was weirdly afraid of something.”
The Polish rider took 23rd on the day, not the result she believed possible with the punchy Yorkshire climbs which suit her nature. The British roads were kinder with less pressure.
At the Women’s Tour, Niewiadoma was second overall, winning stage four following a concerted attack on the slopes of Burton Dassett Country Park in Warwickshire.
The following day, she made the break alongside eventual winner Lizzie Deginan, who had strength in numbers with Trek-Segafredo team-mate Elisa Longo Borghini also making the selection.
“Going into the race, I felt so unprepared and not ready. I flew straight from US, my brother was getting married, there was so much commotion, I had no time to train properly. I didn’t want to win it, I just wanted to use it as a good training week.”
The old saying that you can’t create diamonds without pressure seems to be incorrect in this case, though knowing that isn’t always helpful.
“I can’t lie about the races I want to win, and tell myself something is black when I see it is white! You cant deceive yourself like this,” she explained.
Whether she’ll be able to switch the nerves of for next year’s big targets remains to be seen, but what we do know is that Niewiadoma will tackle the season with the same Canyon-SRAM team-mates as this year. The German registered squad has retained all 15 riders from the 2019 team, something she’s thrilled about.
“I feel fully myself [at Canyon-SRAM]. I don’t have to put a mask on, everyone accepts me. That helps me to be focused. Trying to please other people takes up a lot of energy.”
“Here, I just feel so content. We have ups and downs – sometimes I want to kill all of [my team-mates]! But I love them so deeply, it’s like a family relationship.”
With the coming season carrying the weight of expectation of an Olympic year, choosing where and when to peak can be difficult. For Niewiadoma, the goals come much earlier than July 26.
“I want to win one of the Ardennes Classics. Not Amstel, I never feel like I need to repeat a success I already achieved. I’d like to win La Flèche Wallonne or Liège-Bastogne-Liège. And I love Strade Bianche. I haven’t won it yet, but I’m always so close” – indeed, she’s been second three times and third once.
“I love the race and the people. Usually it’s nasty conditions, and its a battle to survive,” she says of Tuscany’s white road classic.
Looking to Tokyo, she added: “My main goal for the Olympics is to know that I’ve prepared myself to be in the best shape ever – to go there ready, not afraid of others. I don’t want to say I’d go there for a medal because there are so many obstacles. Everyone wants to be good at the Olympics.”
With boyfriend Taylor Phinney announcing his retirement at the end of the 2019 season, her support structure has certainly seen a change – for the better.
“Last year we both spent a lot of time away and would miss each other, and that would make me feel sad. Him being a rider is good, it means he understands my mood swings – when I’m very tired or coming back from a race that didn’t go as I planned. But now I feel since he’s retired it’s way better. Often, I would feel he was unhappy and I would try to help – now I feel he is so happy, so he gives me even more happiness. I’m very excited about our life.”